Blacks and Hispanics make up 26 and 27 percent of New York City, respectively, yet only compile 3 and 6 percent of the FDNY that protects this city.
This disparity has landed the FDNY in trial yet again for racially discriminatory hiring practices. The Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of Black firefighters, is suing the city along with the Department of Justice in federal court.
Presiding over this case is Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who also oversaw a case in 2010 against the FDNY that deemed the entrance exam as favorable to whites over Blacks and Hispanics.
The current trial, which has been stewing for over a week now, finds the Vulcan Society vehemently trying to eliminate bias in the department, which is heavily grounded in tradition and familial ties.
“Without threats and lawsuits, the department won’t move,” revealed John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society. “They are not really concerned with diversifying the FDNY.”
The FDNY started an advertising campaign costing over $1 million this year to promote the new test and garner greater interest from New Yorkers to take the exam starting in early January. The campaign has been targeting minority neighborhoods in particular.
During the court hearing last week, an FDNY diversity training higher up admitted that even though the department has vigorously tried recruiting more minorities into the force, they kept no official numbers to measure their success, a fact that shocked Garaufis.
“We can’t speak to how successful it is,” clarified Coombs in regard to the recruitment campaign, “until men and women of color step out of the academy and into the firefighter world.”
New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano testified in court, by order of the judge as the trial heats up. The commissioner assured that the department has done a good job diversifying their force and said any court intervention would infringe upon his authority. By order of the court in the previous case, a special master, Mary Jo White, was assigned to monitor the restructuring of the new exam.
Unfortunately, no firefighters approached were willing to speak of the diversity on the force while the trial was in session. Few statements regarding the case were released by the FDNY. Only a brief statement from Cassano has been released attempting to spread the idea of working with the fire department.
“There is no more rewarding career than to work as a firefighter and serve the people of New York City,” said Cassano, a 41-year veteran of the department. “We offer a very attractive salary and benefits package that, combined with a great work schedule and the pride that comes from serving others, offers one of the most exciting and rewarding careers available anywhere.”
Cassano has tried to spread the word to minority communities by visiting and speaking at churches in Queens and Harlem. He plans on visiting more as the Sept. 15 deadline approaches for New Yorkers to apply for the test.
“New York City is the major hub of diversity-how can our department not reflect that?” asked Coombs.
Along with a lack of Blacks and Hispanics, as of 2010, women only made up a quarter of a percent of the force.